Why you should add 'robotics' to your BSc in Electronic Engineering
Is AI in Asia the answer for future workplaces? Source: AFP/Joel Saget

The technology of the future will not be built on outdated engineering knowledge. As sectors like data science, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) grow exponentially as we speak, there is a thirst, from students and businesses alike, to link these with traditional engineering courses.

Electronic engineering will have a huge role to play in the creation and maintenance of these new revolutionary devices. A robot can’t be built without the equal contribution of computer science majors programming its brain, mechanical engineering building its skeleton, and finally, electronics powering its nervous system.

As cars are developed into autonomous vehicles and integrated photonics rapidly grows to become a market estimated to be worth US$5 billion by 2025, the electronic engineer of tomorrow needs to balance new theories and technology while learning core manufacturing fundamentals.

After all, it’s what one of the leading electronic engineers of today, Simon Segars, is doing. The CEO of Arm, who made his billions from creating the smaller, cheaper processors that allow us to slip our mobile phones into our pockets, is now leading the company’s production of Arm-based chips behind pioneering 5G devices. Beyond consumer use, Segars is also invested in how 5G will empower an AI-enabled world using the internet of things (IoT), robotics and autonomous cars.

With the wide range of sectors it will impact and all the new products expected to be produced, a large and trained workforce will be necessary to sustain these developments. This is where public-private partnerships like AIM Photonics Academy enter the picture.

AIM Photonics, or the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics, is aimed at emulating the dramatic successes experienced by the electronics industry over the past 40 years and transition key lessons, processes and approaches to the photonic integrated circuit (PIC) industry. Its Academy is where it prepares workers at all levels, whether it’s a technician or someone with a PhD, for these new technologies like integrated photonics, even if they are not yet ready for commercial use.

In the UK, institutions like the University of Sussex offer a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree, which provide a specialised pathway to “develop specific expertise in robotics alongside skills in electrical and electronic engineering,” according to its website. These are the skills that make MEng graduates “employable by various sectors from robot design and development to autonomous cars, robotics, automation, mechatronics, smart systems and renewable energies”.

Others like Plymouth University offer a BEng (Hons) Robotics degree, which incorporates all three disciplines: electronic, mechanical and computer. Here, students like Morgan Roe work closely alongside its Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems (CRNS), with its six rapid prototyping printers supporting PLA, ABS, Nylon, conductive elastomer and other materials, as well as 30 workstations for Solidworks CAD design and Modelling software.

For his work placement year, Roe won a spot as Technical Engineer at Aardman Animations and later worked for Aardman Features Ltd as a Production Engineer. During the latter stint, he worked as part of the team in charge of mechanical components, including the robotic cameras and the equipment used for the motion control both mechanical and electronic.

“I was involved in a wide range of engineering tasks, including making parts required for animation, maintaining and setting up robotic camera rigs and generally solving problems which may occur,” said Roe, whose name was included in the credits for the BAFTA-winning film Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Even social science departments are merging these emerging technologies into their syllabus. Humanities students now get to take minors like Artificial Intelligence and Humanity (Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science), or even enrol in an entire specialised degree programmes like the Master’s Programme in Artificial Intelligence at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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